Eugene Peterson has observed,
North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well or to live better . . . they do what consumers do, shop for the best deal. Pastors, hardly realizing what we are doing, start making deals, packaging the God-product so that people will be attracted to it and then presenting it in ways that will beat out the competition.1
I believe Peterson is right—Christianity in America frequently is a consumer religion.
Christians may say this in so many words, but many times our actions and attitudes when we go to church is, “What’s in it for me?”
Suppose the answer to this question were economic loss and denial of educational opportunity for our children as it was in the Russian Empire or prison for some period of time as it is in China or even death at the hands of your own family members as it some times is in the Muslim world.
The attitude of believers in East Asia is amazing. One day after being held and questioned for several hours by the authorities a young house pastor—we’ll call him Honest Abe—called up one of his friends who was also there with him and said, “Wasn’t that exciting?? For him being held and subjected to the possibility of even worse penalties was a challenging adventure, not something bad.
Christianity was anything but a consumer religion for this young leader.
The problem with consumer religion is that it becomes banal religion—totally trite and lacking in freshness.
It’s like reaching for what looks like a beautiful, freshly ripened peach and getting a mouthful of wax.
What could be worse?
Perhaps that’s why many unbelievers around us find us so tasteless and lacking in value—we’re more wax than real.
Listen to Eugene Peterson again as he talks about the impact of consumer religion on pastors.
“The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal . . . because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management [so] it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description [and] it becomes an idol—a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing
Jonah was the consumer prophet, totally given over to the idea that salvation belonged to Israel and totally resistant to the thought that he should take the Gospel to a political rival.
It's hard for us to think that people who reject and attack our way of life could be objects of God's grace. After all, they're our enemies, so they must be God's enemies as well. Because of this we tend to blame the unbelievers for the storms that fall upon us in our generation. We miss the point that much--if not most--of God's judgment fell on His own people for consuming His grace, not on the unbelievers around us. It is true that unbelievers deserve God's judgment, even as we do and would receive were it not for His grace. The storms are for us at least some of the time.
You see, God is a missionary God, and God's people are frequently a selfish people. Certainly that was true of Israel, which was intended to be a nation of priests, a missionary nation, acting to bring people to God by His grace. But instead of being a kingdom of priests they became a people of pride who took credit for God's grace. They didn't proclaim it, the possessed as if it were theirs, and they were worthy of it. So God took the very best He had--Jonah--and sent him to Nineveh. God wanted them to understand He is a missionary God, but none of them wanted to understand this.
So God sent a storm because of Jonah--not because of the pagan sailors on board the ship with him.
In other words, God sends Jonah--and us--His pursuing grace.
Come and see this in the middle of the howling winds and the seething waves as the sailors seek to discern why this terrible calamity had fallen on them.
They had already done all they could--now they hadto find out why this was happening.
We join them at Jonah 1:7, where the sailors were seeking to solve their dilemma. We begin by seeing.
A. The Sailors seek to know why the storm struck. (Jonah 1:7-8)
1. They knew this was not an ordinary storm.
a. It struck without signs or warning.
b. God hurled it--pinpointed it on their exact position.
c. It was a terrible storm that threatened to break up their ship.
Nearly a year ago, I read a book entitled Fatal Storm, the story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race that has been going on for nearly fifty-five years. Scores of beautiful yachts make the run through what are often unpredictable seas. During the December '98 story they ran into a hurricane, and many boats and several lives were lost. Perhaps you can get a feel of what the sailors must have felt when you hear this quote.
A sea came out of nowhere . . . I could feel it from where I was in the aft coach-house. It picked the boat up and then rolled it down its face--25 tons of boat--into the trough at a 45 degree angle. It was like hitting a brick wall when it came to the bottom.
If that is what it was like for a twenty-five ton boat, what must it have been like for an ancient sailing vessel with none of the modern advantages of sailing?
2. It's no wonder that these sailors sought for a spiritual explanation.
a. They had a spiritual world view and they looked for a spiritual explanation for everything that happened.
b. They understood there were spiritual forces behind all that happened and they wanted to grasp what was going on through these realities.
c. People today are the same--even though they are scientific, they are also spiritual at the same time.
d Beyond God, yet they are seeking the gods.
e. Past the church seen as sleeping through the storm, yet searching for spiritual reality at the same time.
f. So they sought among themselves for an explanation of this utterly unanticipated and unexplainable calamity.
3. We, of course, offer a spiritual explanation for the storms we face.
a. It 's their fault--the unbelievers fault--for not believing.
b. They deserve what's happening to them.
c. Yet we think nothing of our role, nothing of the possibility that we may be contributing to the problem because we refuse to go to our Nineveh.
d. Church is for us--let them come to us if they want what we have.
e. Yet God's directive is exactly the opposite.
f. Jacques Ellul raises a significant point when he states that the lot of non-Christians is lined with the lot of Christians since we're both in the same boat, and it's sinking rapidly.
g. We are all going down-not just the unbeliever.
“Why do we Christians complain about the way the world acts when it depends on us whether the world is set before the Savior's cross?”
That's a fascinating question. We complain because non-Christians act like non-Christians, yet, with Jonah, we refuse to go to Nineveh.
4. So they look right past the church as it sleeps through the storm.
5. At the same time, they turn to us for an explanation for what is happening all around us and them.
So they demand to know what Jonah did to cause their trouble. (1:8)
a. The trouble was his fault.
Remember the storm is raging throughout this conversation. I wonder if there was someone on the bow yelling , “Wave!” when a big wave came. I wonder if there was any free fall as the boat was lifted up and then slammed down by the force of the wave. Was the sail lowered, and the boat allowed to run free while all hung on and shouted their questions?
b. Tell us.
c. These words were spoken with force as they commended him to tell them what they did.
d. Remember, all of this took place at a shouting level as the wind is roaring, and the sea is raging.
e. These questions poured out from all the men involved--not just from one or two, but everyone.
f. It's interesting that their first question was what do you do?
g. He had refused to say anything about this before since he is running from God's presence.
Here we see a very critical and perhaps surprising point.
B. The Storm Searches Jonah Out (1:7-9)
1. Jonah is forced to confess.
a. “I” is emphatic.
b. Jonah must identify himself with the very God from whom he is seeking to escape.
2. Jonah says he fears the LORD God--but it's a creedal confession of faith, not a personal one.
a. He is a Hebrew, literally one who crosses over and speaks of Abraham's crossing of the Tigris River when he came to Canaan at the direction of God.
b. He identifies himself by the name by which the Israelites were known in the ancient world.
c. He further identifies himself with the God who promises and keeps His promise, first to Abraham and then to all of Abraham's descendants.
d. There is obviously no fear of God in Jonah at all.
e. He identifies God first by His unique covenant name, since that's the way all Israelites knew Him from Moses on down.
f. Then he identifies him as the God of heaven--a power name with a universal presence.
To the ancient mind all gods were associated with a particular place and were territorial or local. To enter a country meant to enter the territory over which that god ruled. When Jonah called Yahweh the God of heaven, he identified Him as a universal God--the one God from whom no one could escape.
Jonah knew all along what he was doing--he knew he was fleeing from the true God even though he also knew he was the universal God. What Jonah is doing makes no sense. Of course! Sin never makes sense. But we all know what we're doing when we seek to escape God's presence. When we choose to deny God by identifying with the unbelievers around us and say nothing about Christ, don't we know what we're doing? Isn't this the case when you choose not ever to identify yourself as a Christian on your job until some storm hits, and you're finally forced to admit your true identity?
Weren't you trying to escape from the true God, to escape from doing business God's way? Of course you were. And what happens when we finally speak? Our words become meaningless--and empty creed rather than a living commitment. Prophets who fear God don't end up disciplined by a storm that jeopardizes the very people they should be reaching. This God is the maker of the sea and dry land.
This explains it all.
This explains the sudden and ferocious storm.
This explains why they can't do anything about it.
This explains why this storm is like no other storm they have seen.
This Yahweh, the God of heaven, Maker of the sea and dry land, is angry.
It's as if He's put the sea on as a cloak and He's lashing out in His anger to get at the disobedient prophet--who told them he couldn't wait to get away from the strange religion, the crazy God, and the weird people who lived in Israel. They now know the shame of this prophet and the power of this God. The can do nothing to placate this God--and they are in the biggest trouble of their lives.
3. The sailors become terrified. (1:10)
a. They feared their gods--none of them would do this with any of their gods.
b This is an awful situation.
How could you do this? You must know this God. You must know what He can do. You must have some great involvement with Him--that's why they wanted to know what Jonah did, and that's why it was their first question. He was a spokesman for this God, yet he said nothing to them except that he couldn't wait to get away from Him. Did you really think you could escape Him? If He's the God of heaven, how could you possibly think you could get away from Him.
4. They sought a solution from Jonah because he was the only one who could give it to them.
a. Pick me up.
b. Do with me what God has done with the storm--Hurl!
It is critical to see that.
JONAH WOULD RATHER DIE THAN CHANGE!
He doesn't pray.
He doesn't confess his sin.
He doesn't say let's go back to Nineveh.
He isn't broken.
There is just stiff necked pride. Nineveh will never hear God's message from Jonah! They deserved to be judged, and Jonah will do nothing to prevent it, no matter what God says or does.
Jacques Ellul raises an interesting question.
“Why do we Christians complain about the way the world acts when it depends on us whether the world is set before the Savior's cross?”
We miss the point that we are all in the same boat. Shouldn't that concern us greatly. Amazingly, these pagan sailors are better men than Jonah and try to row to shore.
A. They feared greatly.
1. With Jonah it was just talk.
2. They truly feared GOD.
B. They sacrificed greatly.
1. They carried their own food with them, so they offered from their limited supplies.
2. Because they were limited in what they could sacrifice, they made vows as to what they would when they could do it.
This unbelieving, resistant, selfish, insensitive, willful, proud, stubborn prophet takes the Gospel to Gentiles whether he wants to or not. He didn't want anything to do with these Gentiles and he obviously believes they shouldn't have a relationship with God. Yet he brings them exactly where he didn't want to bring them.
God's grace truly is amazing--He will use us even when we don't want to be used--and keep on pursuing us when we don't want to be pursued.
Pursuing grace is truly amazing grace.
Now we see pursuing grace in a truly amazing way because Jonah has an appointment at sea.
GOD'S PURSUIT ALWAYS
BRINGS US TO GOD'S QUESTIONING GRACE.
God’s target is to give Jonah God’s heart for the world around him.
The aim of the storm is to call Jonah to see what’s in his heart and discern what’s in God’s heart. God wants Jonah to realize he cannot be a consumer prophet any more than we can be consumer Christians. Christianity is not just for us and ours; Christianity is for them and theirs—for those who frighten us and threaten to attack and destroy our culture and the security of our children. We cannot spend our faith on ourselves; we must give our faith to those who are radically different from us. This storm ultimately brings us to the question of what’s in our hearts.
What is in your heart?
Has it been made tender because we set our minds on the interests of God or is it hardened because we set our minds on the interest of man? This may be the most important question we ask, the question we turn to next when we look at the Dreaded L. D.
Could you have the dreaded L. D.?
Just remember this, though.
PURSUING GRACE COMES TO
DISCIPLE US, NOT TO PUNISH US.